Liberalism, Liberation of Passions, Drives, Traffics

Dany-Robert Dufour
Université de Paris 8
translated from the french by michela russo and peter baker

* editing and publication by 17, instituto de estudios críticos

Volume 2, 2012


I’ll begin with the term “passion”, to the extent that it is dear to me as a philosopher. “Passion” is actually situated at the very core of the ancient theory of the soul, which Plato calls psyche. In Phaedrus and The Republic we can find a tripartite topic of psyche, where épithumia, which is situated in the stomach and in the lower abdomen, is presented as the place of the concupiscent passions, also called the “animal spirit”. These passions must be kept on a leash by the first soul, the noûs, that is the rational element, situated in the head. If this is not the case, the second soul, the intermediate soul called thumos, representing that irascible element which is that of anger, situated in the heart, might swing towards the side of épithumia, causing huge disorders to the subjects as well as to the city. This happens when the anger poses itself under the service of the above-mentioned animal spirits, rather than being employed by the noûs.

This theory of the soul can be found with a few minor differences in Aristotle, and afterwards in Christian theology. And even after the soul has been unified by Descartes (and opposed to the body), the theory of the tripartite soul remains fundamental until the Enlightenment.

This theory means that when we abandon ourselves to our passions, we cannot but suffer and make others suffer. In short, passions, suffering and pathos, can constitute themselves as a devastating series leading to barbaric acts.

Let us draw attention to the Freudian passage, connected to his tripartite theory of the soul (see the two topics), where he doesn’t really say anything different: it is necessary that the human being, starting from his childhood, rejects his passions (specifically the oedipal passion for the mother). It’s only in this way that desire and civilization constitute themselves.

The necessity to master and control the passions is exactly what will be questioned during the Enlightenment. This is not simply a result of German transcendentalism embodied in Kant, but rather of English Liberalism embodied in the Kantian contemporary Adam Smith. In fact around 1700, while transcendentalism maintains the necessity of mastering the passions, liberalism – our current ideology – begins to formulate a radically inverse statement with regard to the passions.

Liberalism as liberation of the passions

This alternative statement, around which the whole of liberal thought has been organized, has been discovered, as it is commonly accepted, by Doctor Bernard de Mandeville (1670-1733), a Dutch Calvinist of French origin, who immigrated to London in 1691. It is strange, indeed, that it has not hit us earlier the fact that the economy was invented by doctors. I am thinking about Quesnay, another great economist who is considered the father of the physiocrats and who was the doctor of King Louis XV. I am not going to retrace here the genesis of Mandeville’s discovery. I will simply say that such a discovery came directly out from the discussions stirring the Augustinian milieu during the 17th century, between the Jansenists, the Catholic side, and those who at that time were called their “German cousins”, the Calvinists, in other words, the protestant side[1].

Following a common trend between thinkers during the 17th and 18th centuries, as for instance Descartes and Hume, Mandeville is also the author of a treaty on passions. The treaty, written in 1711, is entitled A Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Passions (a second enlarged edition was published in 1730)[2], and it is presented in the form of a dialogue between a doctor and two of his patients. It is to be noted that these passions are related to what, after Freud, will be called “drives”. Furthermore, it is true that when we read, for instance, Civilization and its Discontents, we can perceive to what extent Freud juxtaposes the terms passion (Leidenschaft) and drive (Trieb).

I believe that Mandeville, the doctor of the soul’s diseases, as he was called at that time, should be considered as a kind of pre-psychoanalyst. In my opinion, he was already a psychoanalyst without realizing it, just like any other person could have been, about that same time, a doctor in spite of himself. But why would he be considered a psychoanalyst? Simply because, as I have just explained, he worked with the soul (the psyche) and its diseases, while analyzing them. These are two good reasons to make him a psycho-analyst avant la lettre. And what does he discover? Simply that soul’s diseases are caused by an excessive restraint of the passions.

Mandeville discovers that recovery proceeds from a liberation of the passions. If we don’t liberate these passions, the so-called animal spirits, we are ill. In particular, women become hysterical and men melancholic and hypochondriac. Mandeville anticipates the Freudian Studies on Hysteria to such an extent that he comes to conjecture that it is possible to refer to an excessive chastity as one of the main causes of hysteria in young women. Regarding the aetiology of hypochondria Mandeville distinguishes a specific feature: culpability, which, as it is well known, will be at the very core of the Freudian elaboration of neurosis. Mandeville adds that a doctor can give aid to miserable people subjected to these troubles by making them speak.

Mandeville can be distinguished from doctors of nervous disorders belonging to his epoch, by his rejection of considering anatomy as capable of explaining everything, as well as by his suspicion of the discoveries made by the microscope which, far from being able to explain everything, neglects to listen to the patient. The fact of speaking is exactly what liberates the patient, rather than purges or bloodletting. This is why we can say that Mandeville is a pre-psychoanalyst. Exactly because, almost two centuries before Freud, he deals with the huge question of the therapeutic effects of speech in order to remove the repression of certain passions.

But this is not the end of the matter, far from it, since Mandeville is considered as nothing less that the inventor of the Theory of Economic Liberalism. Thus Hayek, the great, smartest and most formidable liberal thinker of the 20th Century considered Mandeville as a “master mind”, giving him a decisive role in the foundation of sciences within society[3]. According to Mandeville, we are not simply dealing with the attempt to give relief to the patients by means of a “talking cure”, even if it reveals itself to be useful for doing a “chimney sweeping” (as Anna O. once said, one of Freud’s first patients). It is rather a case of letting them go into the world with their passions let loose and seeing what they are capable of.

As a response to this question about the effects of these liberated passions in the world, Mandeville writes a fable, very similar to those written by La Fontaine (of whom he had been translator in England). Mandeville titles his fable The grumbling hive or knaves turn’d honest, and he publishes it anonymously. In 1704, the fable is sold by auction down in to London’s stinking streets at the very low price of half a penny a sheet. Passing through different re-editions, the fable’s title changes, ending up being called The Fable of the Bees.[4] To say “fable” means at the same time to say “moral”. In this case, the fable affirms that “private vices lead to public good and virtue condemns the city to poverty and indigence”.[5] In 1714, Mandeville publishes The Fable of the Bees adding twenty “Remarks” to the 1704 text, as a kind of “verse by verse” commentary on the poem. The title is clear enough about author intentions: “The Fable of Bees, or Private Vices, Public Benefits, contains numerous discourses showing that human faults, amongst a depraved humanity, can be used to the advantage of civil society, and in such a way private vices can take the place of moral virtues”.[6] However, the scandal cannot but explode with the publication of the 1723 edition, which contains, in addition to the previous version, “A Search into the Nature of Society” and “an Essay On Charity, and Charity-schools”. Here Mandeville, a Puritan Calvinist, denounces charitable institutions and defends brothels as possible source of prosperity. Finally, in 1729, a second part, containing the development of the implications of Mandeville’s thesis, follows the Fable.[7] It is then that the most sensational philosophical scandal arises of the whole European Enlightenment. Mandeville is accused of being a libertine and an atheist. Everywhere his book is burned as a work of the devil and his name ends up being transformed from Mandeville into Man Devil.

The principal thesis of the œuvre is very clear: the attitudes, characters and behaviours considered at the individual level as morally reprehensible (i.e. amour propre, greediness, the taste of luxury, expensive lifestyle, libertinage, deceptions…), when considered on the collective level represent a source of general prosperity and promote the development of the arts and the sciences. This is what leads to the rise of liberal anthropology, whose morality is expressed through the Fable’s second subheading: “Be greedy, selfish, a spender for your own pleasure as much as you can, because then you will do all the possible best for your nations’ prosperity and your citizens’ happiness”. This point can be condensed in the statement “egoisms should be let run” (il faut laisser faire les égoïsmes). This idea by Bernard Mandeville will be taken up, developed and expurgated from all its diabolic references by Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations, and then by all the following liberal economy. Liberalism is first and foremost the liberation of passion/drives.

In this way we are lead to the conclusion there is a statement, or an axiom, which is common to both liberalism (which is interested in the market economy) and psychoanalysis (which is interested in the psychic economy) – this is not surprising at all since both of them are interested in the libidinal economy. This axiom is the following: the drives are egoistic, since they face their own satisfaction. Freud, as it is well known, having discovered such a law, will hasten to add to it a second axiom: any enjoyment [jouissance] derived from the drive’s satisfaction cannot but be limited to preserving the cohesion of the social group.

Subtraction of jouissance

In short, it is necessary that a “subtraction of jouissance” operates on this liberated drive (I draw here on Lacanian words, see the session on 12th April 1967 in The Logic of Fantasy seminar), and this subtraction must take place from the very beginning of the subject’s formation, otherwise it will be too late.

As a matter of fact, such a subtraction must intervene very early, for the situation of young infants immediately lends itself to it. This infancy is indeed characterized by a declared competition of egoistic drives between the father and the child with regard to the mother. The question is: who is going to enjoy her? I will not retrace here, since it is well known, the dynamic proposed by Freud during the 20’s in order to resolve the drives’ conflict, that is: the oedipal complex, the castration complex and the formation of the superego. Following this, the superego becomes that meta-psychological instance able to guarantee the introjection of the moral law. This represents the child’s renunciation to his jouissance of the mother, which obviously opens to the field of desire. The child discovers that his mother is a woman as well, and thus she is subjected to the desire of an other, who is the father. This is the first encounter between the child and sexual difference, and hence with generational difference, which can often be quite traumatic. This means that there is no desire without renouncing to jouissance, that is without the original subtraction of jouissance. This is what will be synthesized by the Lacanian sentence: “Castration means that jouissance has to be refused in order to be attained on the inverse scale of the Law of desire”.[8]

At this point, something becomes very clear to us: if Mandeville and Freud, that is the two main doctors of the soul, agree about the first axiom, they diverge when defining the second one. Mandeville claims that the drives must let run with respect to social organization. Freud, on the contrary, advocates the necessity to operate a subtraction of enjoyment on the drive in order to preserve social cohesion. In this way Freud maintains that tradition emerging from German transcendentalism, which requires the control of the passions, and which concerns the subjective assumption of social link. The Kantian term “regulation” associated to passion is in fact very present in Freud’s book Civilization and its Discontents. Nevertheless Freud goes further in this conception since he does not simply reproduce the classical notion of passion, but he remodels it, ending up with the concept of the drive. The drive is, in short, a passion on which a subtraction of enjoyment has been made. It is this subtraction that, of course, leaves amnestic trace in the shape of a psychic representative. This is why Freud defined the drive as having a double face: one being somatic and one psychic. The drive is not only, as well as all the other passions, an amount of energy, but it also carries a psychic inscription. This trace plays a crucial role since it works as a signifying mark, that is as prime signifier, a prime gramme, being, in this way, immaterial and psychic, at the basis of any possible grammar.

We can now conclude that this inaugural difference between the two doctors of the soul derives from the existence of two competing models of treatment as regards the drive. On the one hand it is necessary to let the drive run towards its finality: that is, its satisfaction or, in other words, enjoyment. On the other hand, the drive must be curbed in order to have access to an economy of desire.

From liberalism tempered by transcendentalism to ultra-liberalism

If we now consider things from a historical point of view, we see that liberalism –in so far as it is founded on a liberation from the passions– has been tempered for a long time by transcendentalism. This admittedly does not appear in Mandeville’s economic liberalism, but it certainly does in political liberalism as it has been theorized by John Locke (1632–1704), and in particular in his Two Treatises of Government (1690). Indeed, in the Anglo-Saxon empirical conception of law, public power must be present in order to guarantee private initiatives and the free play of private interests. This law presents two parts: ownership of the self and ownership of goods. No one can attack the right of each person to their ownership of the self by, for example, partaking in illicit trade with this property (such as buying or selling a fellow-citizen),[9] or by despoiling a person of their right to ownership of the self (for example, by kidnapping or drugging him/her…). Likewise, no one can despoil a citizen of their own goods as this would prevent him from putting them on the market, if he should so desire.

In classic liberalism, it is thus necessary for the state to guarantee the free play of private interests. The public power is thus there in order to guarantee to each and every person the possibility of freely defending their own interests. This is why the right to competition is, after the right to private property, so important in the Anglo-Saxon conception. It corresponds to that which obliges private or moral people to compete with the other as much as to submit to this competition. It is thus necessary, by legitimate anticipation, to assure everyone the right to access the market. It is the only way in which everyone is able to defend their own interests and so thus achieve a sense of dignity (at least, that of the trader as Adam Smith had formulated). And this is the only means for the market to achieve its full economic efficiency. Only the greatest possible competition between producers is in effect disposed to assuring the consumers’ greatest possible satisfaction and, consequently, the increase of production. This principle of right to competition thus obliges public power to guarantee each person access to the market and protection against unfair competition.

If cases of unfair competition (for example through the constitution of a trust monopolizing the market and preventing competition) are proved, the sanctions, delivered by the public powers, can be very hefty: record fines for companies, prison sentences for several years, perhaps decades, and even the death penalty in certain countries, against the individuals judged to be guilty (for example, Enron’s ex-CEO, the leading energy company in the United States affected by an enormous corruption scandal in 2001, was condemned to 24 years and 4 months in prison in October 2006). And if the cases of illicit trade or interference in other people’s access to the market (for example through theft, kidnappings, crimes of despoiling…) are proved, the sanctions can be very large: for example, in the United States, amongst the so-called ‘dangerous’ classes such as the young black population between the age of 20 and 29, poor, and thus very implicated in all illicit trading and illegal practices, nearly one out of three individuals is in prison or under supervision. This ends up in the fact that there is in the United States five times more African-American young people in prison than in University![10]

Classical political liberalism (tempered by transcendentalism) implies, therefore, not impeding on individual initiative. Public power exists, on the contrary, in order to sanction those who impede more or less heavily on the other’s initiative by despoiling them of their goods or by attacking their ownership of the self.

With ultra-liberalism, the principle of not impeding on any individual initiative, even if it continues to be in place amongst the “dangerous” poorer classes, has moreover been lifted for the rich, on account of the fact that they are disposed to producing more wealth.

In sum, ultra-liberalism constitutes a perversion of liberalism in the sense that it has pushed the principle of absolute defence -on the part of each actor, of their private interests- to its limits. This is the context in which the famous ultra-liberal slogan appeared, upheld by thinkers such as Milton Friedman or Friedrich Hayek: egoisms should be let be (il faut laisser faire les égoïsmes). Now the fact of pushing this principle to its limits could not but undo the liberal and modern idea of the necessity for organizing public power in a state charged with regulating the access of each person to the market. It is thus every social organization that has found itself overturned by this ultra-liberal ideology as it is the great modern victory –the state, as an organ of regulation– which has found itself challenged. Indeed, we know the constant demand of the ultra-liberals: less state, less regulation, less institutions. In exchange for this political, juridical and symbolic deregulation, the promise of rapid growth and considerable global wealth was made. This miraculous transfiguration of selfish private interests into public fortune was supposedly made possible by the action of a divine Providence seeing to it that an auto-harmonization of private interests took place (cfr. the theory of the ‘invisible hand’ in Adam Smith).

This ultra-liberalism, indeed, working as a quasi-religious dogma and a supposed remedy to all evils, was inaugurated by Reagan’s and Thatcher’s reign and has lasted for the last thirty years. Today, this ultra-liberalism is in a process of miserable collapse. The proof: the absolute refusal of State intervention has ended, at the peak of the crisis, in the most fantastic injection of public capital of all time into private financial organizations. The lie of the auto-harmonization of private interests and of the growth in global fortune has violently deflated like a huge speculative bubble founded on illusions. So we see the biggest defenders of the system, such as Alan Greenspan, former president of the American Federal Reserve (Fed), eat his hat in public by imploring, after the privatization of profits, the nationalization of losses.[11]

The example of Enron’s CEO’s condemnation I just cited could lead one to believe that the regulating state has remained in place throughout the course of this ultra-liberal period. In fact, it is not at all the case. In practice, it is estimated that only 5% to 10% of the different possible cases of interference and corruption are brought to light in the business world. In short, for every 6 Enrons or World com’s, Vivendi’s or Parmalat’s, Adecco’s or Morgan Stanley’s that are caught out, around 94 other groups or accounts more or less falsified have been able to lead a tranquil life! The ratio is the same – very weak – as regards high delinquency (gangster delinquency and white collar delinquency). On the other hand, the controls may be very strong as regards low delinquency such as that I have already mentioned in reference to the age group between 20 – 29 amongst black youths in the United States. This solution is of course worse than the problem as the prisons are put to work as veritable schools of delinquency.

Transductive propagation of the market economy to the psychical economy

Here I make a central hypothesis; this transformation of the market economy is not without effect for the psychical economy. In other words, there is a transductive propagation from the market economy’s principles to those of other great human economies. Here is what I understand by this concept transduction. We find ourselves in a transductive propagation when each constituted area serves the next area as a matter of principle, by model and initiation, and as a result a modification can extend progressively and a general mutation can appear after having been propagated from one to the next.[12] In other words, unregulated financial liberalism has not just resulted in an eating away at the bases of finance and the world market economy. Far from it: all the great human economies have been affected. For these economies are articulated between themselves, so that certain essential changes in the market economy (deregulation) have unmistakably lead to substantial effects in the political economy (obsolescence of the government and apparition of governance, resulting from corporate governance, also known as the “dictatorship of the shareholders”). Yet this is not all, since this last aspect has done nothing other than provoke mutations in the symbolic economy (disappearance of the authority of the social pact and the appearance of new forms of social ties such as the so-called “ego-gregarious”, who are characterized by the conflictive and often spectacular display of self-interests in search of consummatory satisfactions). On the other hand, these mutations in culture have affected our ways of speaking, that is to say, the semiotic economy (through the appearance of a liberal Newspeak marked by transformations in grammar and semantic alterations where, for example, all forms of authority, even secular or transcendental ones, have been banished). Ultimately, these transformations have succeeded in establishing an economy which seems to be obstinate a priori to any submission to the laws of the market economy: the psychical economy, with an exit out of the classical Freudian framework of neurosis and an entry into a post-neurotic framework where perversion, depression and addiction predominate.

Addictive behaviours, frequent in the economies of jouissance, are favoured by a market economy which proposes to supply everybody with all their necessary manufactured objects, indeed all products, whether licit or not, as well as all market services and all available fantasies that are likely to satisfy the appetencies.

As regards perverse behaviours, these are observable in all sectors of society. If the current financial crisis has at least one merit, it is that it has shattered the myth that the dominant ultra-liberal narrative carefully maintained as it spread across the world over the last thirty years. Namely, they affirmed that it was absolutely necessary to distinguish clean business, working according to criteria of transparency, honesty and satisfactory morality, from shady, unclean or even criminal business, proceeding from all forms of illicit traffic.

This ultra-liberal narrative, concerned with conquering the mind and of presenting itself in a good light, had actually taken care to group together under the name of “organized crime” a whole series of reprehensible activities amongst which we can count, alongside the “traditional” activities (drugs, extortion, abduction, gambling, procuring women and children, smuggling alcohol, tobacco, medication, stolen cars and spare parts…, armed theft, forged money and receipts, fiscal fraud and misappropriation of public credit…) several new markets (such as the trafficking of illegal labour and refugees, computer piracy, art and antiques trafficking, human organ and protected species trafficking, counterfeiting, large-scale arms trafficking, toxic waste and nuclear products…).

We were asked to believe that all this had no connection to the rest of economic activity and would refer to a parallel, barbaric world, nocturnal and underground, in a process of re-absorption thanks to the efforts of the official diurnal and perfectly civilized world.

Now the current crisis shows over and over again that this distinction between two worlds, the one perverse, the other moral, doesn’t only not hold, but reveals itself as an illusory and untruthful smokescreen. This is the case for two reasons.

First of all, these two worlds are intimately interwoven, quite simply because the financial groups and banks have always been interested in gaining enormous profits from the affairs of said organized crime. Criminal activities are not only compatible with ultra-liberalism, but above all perfectly integrated in it. It is thus that in 2000, it was counted that, everyday, around a million dollars per day were laundered by various mafias. This figure represents between half and two thirds of direct foreign investment. In total, without taking into account the fact that these activities have a transnational dimension, the gross international criminal product exceeded in 2000 100 billon dollars annually, or nearly 20% of world trade.[13]

Yet there is a second reason why the distinction between organized crime and licit trade has become untenable. This is simply because official economic activity has begun to produce a mass of shady, or worse than shady, capital, which has been amalgamated, as a result of laundering, with the manna resulting from criminal activities. This “corrupt” capital come from a whole series of activities very widely spread across the biggest companies as has been amply demonstrated by the recent scandals in companies such as Enron, World Com, Tyco, Vivendi, Parmalat, Adecco, Morgan Stanley, etc.: agreements and cartels, abuses from the dominant position, dumping and forced sales, offences and speculation on the behalf of insider traders, the absorption and dismemberment of the competition, falsified balance sheets, fiddling with accounts and transfer pricing, fraud and fiscal evasion through offshore branches and dummy companies installed in ‘tax havens’, misappropriation of public credit and rigged markets, hidden corruption and commissions, accumulation of wealth without cause, abuse of social assets, surveillance and espionage, blackmail and informing, violation of rules as regards labour law, trade union liberties, health, security, contributions, pollution and the environment…

If these illicit activities and all kinds of trafficking have greatly increased in power over the course of these last thirty years, this is not a hap-hazard phenomenon. The reason for it is simple: the more industrial capital passed through the capital financier’s hands, the more classical liberalism ceded to ultra-liberalism, and the more current these activities became – it was necessary to satisfy the stockholder’s demands who were expecting a double-figure return on their investment if possible. In order for these practices to become generalized, it was necessary to corrupt the managers so they no longer pursued industrial but financial aims. In short, it was necessary to buy-off the higher level management. This was made possible by granting fabulous salaries to upper-level management, by making them interested in the company’s profits in the form of stock-options, and by giving them outrageous advantages such as the golden retirement, otherwise known as “top hat” plans.[14]

The last stage of financial capital’s domination over industrial capital – the straw, that after all else, today is breaking the camel’s back – has consisted in a varied assembly of extremely risky financial operations such as large-scale borrowing of inexistent money (subprimes)[15], the securitization of those dusty debts, the creation of hedge funds often established in tax havens, permitting us to speculate about the evolution of the market, at upper and lower levels.

But enough, is enough: this all-too-greedy financial capitalism has gone into convulsion since the 2008 crisis, slurping up public money in order to bail out the banks, leading to massive debts in the State budget, and resulting in repossession of the banks’ huge profits. Then, the next crisis; the creation of new speculative bubbles under threat of bursting, multiplication of the ecological catastrophes produced by dangerous choices supported by financial and techno-industrial lobbies…

Polymorph perversion and all types of trafficking

However, we should not be too hasty to claim victory and believe that we have shaken off these problems. Indeed, this mechanism has largely corrupted our minds and souls. It is not only big business professionals that have been sold, corrupted and perverted. If we look closely, we can easily see how this corruption has rotted all levels of society. Indeed, since shareholding has been chosen as a means to finance retirement and increase the resources for salaries via profit-sharing benefits, it is the collective of individuals, from the youngest to the oldest, who have been asked to act perversely, in a predatory way, and to adopt without question the selfish principle of maximal personal interest.

In other words, this ultra-liberal ideology has been able to work only as an enterprise of general corruption, reaching across all levels of society and transforming the City and its laws of living side-by-side into a perverse City. This brings us back round to saying that there is not much which distinguishes the predatory methods of mafias from these financial groups – indeed, this is exactly the diagnostic that the former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, known for his wisdom and frankness, has put forward:

What’s striking, is the silence of the sciences. The great economists are keeping quiet. And they daren’t call a spade a spade. The truth is that hiding our old debts amongst others like the banks did, with the aid of securitization, is stealing. The precautions in choice of words are unseemly. Naming things correctly allows us to apply sanctions properly. We are still too reverential as regards the finance industry and the intellectual industry of financial sciences. Math teachers teach their students how to be successful on the stock market. What they do, without them realizing it, is like a crime against humanity.[16]

It results from these acute and clear proposals, too rare amongst current politicians, that there is not, at the current moment, two worlds, impenetrable to one another or antagonistic – that of “organized crime” and that of legal markets – but a single world marked by traffic of all kinds and by crime, which results from “organized crime” or “crime against humanity” through stealing, despoliation, pollution, destruction, pauperization, diverse casualization of labour…

This world of generalized traffic is that which works on the principle of an instinctual laissez-faire.

In sum, this laissez-faire gives rise to, on the horizon of a deregulated liberalism, the figure of the generalized outside-of-the-law.

This new connection with the law could be, I believe, linked to a remark made by Lacan in 1967 during one of the study days on the psychoses of children.[17] It turns out that, in La Lettre de l’enfance et de l’adolescence, Françoise Petitot has re-examined these questions put forward in these useful details:

The decline of the paternal function has as a consequence, according to J. Lacan, the advent of the “generalized child”. The generalized child is the subject, young or less young, stuck in a prolonged childhood (…). To be without limit, abandoned to one self, he seems to enjoy (jouir) an all-powerfulness that, in reality, consumes him. He is also referred to as a parent’s worst nightmare, his school’s agitator, impossible in group work, a harbourer of danger for the social which surrounds him, but apparently does not concern him.[18]

The advent of the generalized child, of course, can only bring with it that which characterizes the infant for Freud; polymorph perversion . Basically, this “generalized child’s destiny is to become a “generalized hoodlum”, someone who has never experienced the effect of an inclusive symbolic violence, alone capable of cutting them off from their supposed omnipotence and making them, thus, come back to their limitations.

As the reasons which would bring this destiny to its end are not met, it can only be going further. The logic in this domain is such that we are thus witnessing the rise of barbarism and of all kinds of traffic. I will mention them in bulk: child rape, barbaric murders, jubilantly naming victims, actions of social predation, populist purposes encouraging people to take revenge of their scapegoats, development of “vulture funds” preying on the poorest countries or social sectors, dictatorial but uncontrollable practices from offshore investors, mafia activities, all kinds of traffic…

This allows us to understand the position of those who refuse to adhere to these addictive and perverse standards of the ultra-liberal era: that is they can only take refuge in depression. It is then that they count on the same formula which the novelist Herman Melville brilliantly put in melancholic hero Bartleby’s mouth: I would prefer not to…

In other words, this depressive position may easily be a kind of political position which we still ignore. We can bet that those who have this depressive position are waiting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If we are to believe the poet, it is not out of the question that the night will illuminate itself: “we are in the jungle and night falls. An endless night threatens us if we don’t illuminate it and if our songs do not call for the dawn” (Jean-Baptiste Botul, imaginary writer, “Troisième causerie sur Kant”).

However, we should not neglect a major risk: the longer we wait…the greater the risk of taking a bladder for a lantern. The rise of populism in the world makes us fear the worst: we should never forget that the 1929 stock market crisis was followed by the 1933 tragic rise of Hitler who rehabilitated a multiplicity of blackguards generated by the ultra-liberalism of that time.


01. Allow me to refer the reader to my last book: Dany-Robert Dufour, Le Divin Marché, Paris, Denoël, 2007.

02. Bernanrd de Mandeville, A Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Passions, 2nd enlarged edition, London, 1730, New York, reproduced by Scholars Facsimile Delmar, 1976. A commentary of Mandeville’s work and notably of the Treatise of Passions is to be found in Paulette Carrive, B. Mandeville : passions, vices, vertus, Paris, Vrin, 1980.

03. See F. A. Hayek, “Lecture on a master mind: Dr Bernard Mandeville”, in New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the History of Ideas, London and Chicago, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.,1978.

04. The fable is available online at:;staticfile=show.php?title=846&Itemid=27

05. Translators note: Translation from the original French text is translators’ own.

06. Translators note: Translation from the original French text is translators’ own.

07. Bernard de Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees or Privates Vices, Publick Benefits, With a Commentary Critical, Historical, and Explanatory by F.B. Kaye, 2 vols, London, Oxford University Press, 1924. (Translator’s note: translation from French text are translator’s own.)

08. Jacques Lacan, “The Subversion of the subject and the dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious”, in Écrits. A Selection, tr. by Bruce Fink, New York, Norton & Company, 2006, p. 700.

09. Which doesn’t, however, prevent anybody from buying or selling… a non-citizen. Indeed, in the second Treaty On Government, Locke justifies slavery by indicating that there are men “which by a peculiar name we call slaves, who being captives taken in a just war, are by the right of nature subjected to the absolute dominion and arbitrary power of their masters. These men having, as I say, forfeited their lives, and with it their liberties, and lost their estates; and being in the state of slavery, not capable of any property, cannot in that state be considered as any part of civil society; the chief end whereof is the preservation of property”. (§ 85). The Two Treatises on Goverment are available on-line:

10. Source: 55th Commission from the Rights of Man (1999) from the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

11. Interrogated by the Commission of the United States and charged with the control of government action, the former patron of the Fed has admitted to having “made an error in believing that the defense of their own interests, notably amongst the bankers, was the best protection there was”. At the demand of the president of the Commission; “Do you find that your vision of the world, your ideology, wasn’t the right one, didn’t work?”, Greenspan responded; “Absolutely, exactly. That’s precisely the reason that I was shocked, because for more than forty years now all evidence shows that it has worked exceptionally well.” Cfr. “Alan Greenspan fait part de son “grand désarroi” in Le Monde, 10/25/2008

12. This term transduction comes from the work produced in the sixties by the philosopher Gilbert Simondon (cfr. G. Simondon, L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique, Paris, PUF, 1964, p. 25).

13. The reader interested by this question should refer to: Jean-Louis Hérail et Patrick Ramael, Blanchiment d’argent et crime organisé, Paris, PUF, 1996; Marcel Leclerc, La Criminalité organisée, La Documentation française, Paris, 1996 ; Pierre Kopp, L’Économie de la drogue, La Découverte, Paris, INHEJS, 1997; Jean de Maillard, Un monde sans loi, Paris, Stock, 1998; Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Beau linge et argent sale, Paris, Anagramme éditions, 2002; and above all, Moisés Naím (director of the very respected magazine Foreign Policy), Illicit : How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy, New York, Anchor Books 2005.

14. Several figures/information concerning these three points: a) salaries: in the United States, the 100 most important CEOs earn on average 1000 times more than their “ordinary” salary – and we can rest assured that France has now caught up with the States; b) stock-options give the managers the right to buy a notable quantity of stocks at a favorable price during a given period; c) the “top hat” plans: for example, the former CEO of the Carrefour group, ousted for bad results, left with the assurance of a supplement pension of a maximum total of 29 million euros as well as indemnity to the amount of 3 years worth of salary or 9.8 million euros.

15. The classic rules impose the banks to hold around a dollar of capital for every 12 dollars of credit at most. The finance market has allowed its participants to grant 32 dollars of credit to each dollar of capital!

16. Michel Rocard, “La crise sonne le glas de l’ultralibéralisme” in Le Monde, 11/01/2008.

17. Jacques Lacan, “Allocution sur les psychoses de l’enfant” [1967], in Autres Écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001, p. 369.

18. The Lettre de l’enfance et de l’adolescence, trimestrielle, no 48, 2002, edited by Érès. (Translator’s note: Translation from the original French text is translators’ own.)

Works cited

  • “Alan Greenspan fait part de son “grand désarroi”, in Le Monde, 10/25/2008
  • Hayek, F. A., “Lecture on a master mind: Dr Bernard Mandeville”, in New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and the History of Ideas, London and Chicago, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.,1978.
  • Lacan, Jacques, “The Subversion of the subject and the dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious”, in Écrits. A Selection, tr. by Bruce Fink, New York, Norton & Company, 2006.
  • __________, “Allocution sur les psychoses de l’enfant” [1967], in Autres Écrits, Paris, Seuil, 2001.
  • Locke, John, The Two Treatises on Government,
  • Mandeville, Bernanrd de, A Treatise of the Hypochondriack and Hysterick Passions, 2nd enlarged edition, London, 1730, New York, reproduced by Scholars Facsimile Delmar, 1976.
  • __________, The Fable of the Bees or Privates Vices, Publick Benefits, With a Commentary Critical, Historical, and Explanatory by F.B. Kaye, 2 vols, London, Oxford University Press, 1924. The fable is also available online at:;staticfile=show.php?title=846&Itemid=27
  • Petitot, Françoise, “Éditorial” and “Introduction”, in La Lettre de l’enfance et de l’adolescence, no 48, 2002, trimonthly, Paris, Érès.
  • Rocard, Michel, “La crise sonne le glas de l’ultralibéralisme”, in Le Monde, 11/01/2008.
  • Simondon, Gilbert, L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique, Paris, PUF, Paris, 1964.
  • United Nations Economic and Social Council., 55th Commission from the Rights of Man, 1999.